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Fahrenheit 451 Lights Up on DVD

Oskar Werner, Julie Christie, Cyril Cusack, Anton Diffring, Jeremy Spenser, Alex Scott. Directed by François Truffaut. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (widescreen). Dolby Digital (mono). 112 minutes. 1966. Universal ID4231. Not rated. $24.99.

It would probably kill the world's conspiracy theorists to admit this, but Ray Bradbury's tale of a future in which books are banned and firemen are employed to burn them remains as far away today as it was when the novel was written. But, like Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World, enough of Bradbury's vision has come to pass that there is a case to be made for prophecy---and it's a shame that Truffaut's first-ever English-language production overlooked such subtleties as it set off in pursuit of the central horror. Fahrenheit 451 remains a magnificent movie, but it could have been a much scarier one.

Some shocking anachronisms unfold: the super-futuristic monorails that crisscross the landscape are a far technological cry from the antiquated vehicles that carry the firemen off to work. But at least some of the anachronistic images are deliberate. For example, a little boy watches a passing fire engine with the same wide-eyed wonder that generations of children have traditionally shown, then turns to his mother and says, "Oh good, there's going to be a fire." Of all the movie's inversions, this one probably speaks loudest.

Presented here in all of its widescreen glory (but lacking even the most basic bonus gizmos), this version of Fahrenheit 451 is unquestionably superior to any televised or video version you might have seen in the past 30 years. The sheer depth of the picture is astounding, and, in the scenes that gave the story its name, you can almost feel the heat.

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